Morning Sermon: Exodus 20:14, The Seventh Commandment

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 20:12–17

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:12–17, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Matthew 5:21–24

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–30, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


In the introduction to this sermon on the seventh commandment, I wish to say a little about the interconnectedness of the Ten Commandments. At first glance, the Ten Commandments may seem to be ten individual and unrelated moral laws. Upon more careful examination, we see that each of the Ten Commandments are connected. 

Broadly speaking, the first four commandments and the last six are related in that to love God truly one must also love their fellow man, and to love man truly, one must first love God. To say that you love God but to hate your fellow man makes you a liar and shows that the truth is not in you. This is what John says in his first epistle: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20–21, ESV). And in like manner, to claim to love your neighbor but without love for God in your heart makes your love for neighbor hollow and superficial. To love others truly, we must love them to the glory of God. To love others in a way that counts, we must love them with God’s love and urge them to love God too, through faith in Jesus the Messiah. This is what John means when he says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7–8, ESV). So then, broadly speaking, though the first and second tables of God’s moral law may be distinguished from one another, they are interconnected. To love God truly, we must love our neighbor. And to love our neighbor truly requires the love of God.   

The first four commandments are also interrelated. The first commandment requires us to worship and serve YHWH alone as God, for he alone is God, and besides him there is no other. And commandments two through four have to do with the way of worship. What form is worship to take? Never are we to worship God with images. What should the attitude of our worship be? We are to have reverence for God and his names. And what about time? How are we to worship God as it pertains to time? Six days are to be devoted to God-honoring work, and one day out of seven is to be set apart as holy for rest and for worship – it is a day for the people of God to assemble and to give God praise. You can see, then, that the first four commandments are all intertwined. The first commandment is the head commandment. God alone is to be worshiped. And commandments two through four establish how God is to be worshiped. You cannot untangle these commandments. Together, they teach us to honor and to love God as God.

Now, I want for you to see that the last six commandments are interrelated too. The head commandment of the second table of the law is the fifth: “honor your father and mother”. As we have learned, this commandment requires all men to “[preserve] the honor, and [perform] the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Baptist Catechism, 69). Men and women, boys and girls, are to be honored, brothers and sisters. Human life is to be honored, for man is made in the image of God. The fifth commandment establishes this. 

So then, you can see that the first commandment is the head commandment of the first table of the law, and the fifth commandment is the head commandment of the second table of the law. Both, you will notice, have to do with honor. How are we relate to God? The first table of the law begins by saying, in essence, YHWH alone is to be honored as God. And how are we to relate to our fellow man? The second table of the law begins by establishing that honor is to be shown by children to parents. From here it may be deduced through reason and by the example of Holy Scripture, that honor is to be shown to all people in a way that fits their position in life. Or if you would prefer to use the word “love” instead of “honor”, the first and fifth commandments establish that God alone is to be loved as God, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

If the fifth commandment establishes that all men and women are to be honored and loved, how then do commandments six through ten relate to that head commandment? Well, they specify how this honor is to be shown. 

First, murder is forbidden. Human life is to be honored. Never is a human life to be taken unjustly. The fifth commandment establishes that honor is to be shown to all people in a way that fits their God-given position in life, and the sixth commandment builds upon this by forbidding the unjust taking of human life. Human life is to be honored in all stages, brothers and sisters. Human life is to be honored from the womb to the grave. No individual, acting as an individual, has the right to extinguish human life, except in the case of self-defense. This we considered in some detail in the previous sermon. 

Next, adultery is forbidden. How does the seventh commandment, which is, “you shall not commit adultery, relate to the head commandment, which is. “honor your father and mother”? Well, if the sixth commandment, “you shall not murder”, teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to its end, the commandment, “you shall not commit adultery”, teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to its beginning. 

Only God has the right to determine when a life will end. Sometimes he brings life to an end through his ministers in the civil realm who are tasked with upholding and executing retributive justice. No matter if death comes about naturally, by accident, or judicially, it is God who numbers our days. Individuals acting as individuals do not have the right to decide when the life of another will end. And though it is true that God also determines when a life will begin, human choice is involved in this. Human life is brought into existence through sexual intercourse. This is the means that God has determined to use to create new life. Adam and Eve were created directly by God in a unique way. All others are created by God through the natural process of procreation. God’s design is that humans be brought into this world by a man and woman coming together physically. Furthermore, God’s design is that the man and woman be joined together in the marriage covenant so that they do not only come together to create life, but they stay together all the days of their lives to nurture the life that has been brought into the world through them. This is God’s design. Men and women are to come together physically only after they have come together covenantaly in marriage. Human life is to be brought into the world in this way so that the new human being might be raised and nurtured by their father and mother to the glory of God. 

I’ll say more about this in a moment. For now, I am making the basic observation that the seventh commandment, “you shall not commit adultery” is related to the fifth in that it is about the honoring of human life as it pertains to the beginning of it. Yes, the seventh commandment requires individuals to maintain sexual purity. We will come to that in a moment. But there is something bigger going on here. When God says, “you shall not commit adultery” he does not only require sexual purity, he does also draw special attention to the sanctity of the marriage bond. To commit adultery is not only to be sexually immoral. It is to break the marriage covenant, you see. To commit adultery is to be unfaithful to cause another to be unfaithful to their spouse sexually. If God were only concerned with sexual purity, he could have said, “you shall not be sexually impure.” That would have forbidden the sin of adultery and much more. But in saying, “you shall not commit adultery”, he has both required sexual purity (by way of implication) while also drawing special attention to the sanctity of the marriage bond, and to the way in which he has designed new life to be brought into the world. The point is this: while the command, “you shall not murder”, is about honoring human life as it pertains to the end, the command, “you shall not commit adultery”, is about honoring human life as pertains to the beginning of it and to the nurturing of it in the family.

I will not say much about the relationship of the eighth, ninth, and tenth commandments to the fifth at this time. We will have the opportunity to elaborate on this in future sermons. In fact, it is not difficult to see the relationship between them. If the fifth commandment requires us to show honor to all image-bearers in a way that fits their God-given position in life, this means that we are not to steal from one another, lie to or about others, or covet what God has given to others. These are the particular ways in which we are to show honor and love to our neighbors, no matter if they are rich or poor, powerful or weak.

In just a moment we will ask, what does the seventh commandment require and forbid? But before we go there I wish to make to be sure that this is clear in your minds. The commandment, you shall not commit adultery, is ultimately about showing love and honor to our fellow human beings. The whole second table of the law is summed up with these words, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This includes the seventh commandment. By abstaining from sex outside of the covenant of marriage, we honor and love our fellow man. Stated negatively, by engaging in sex outside the covenant of marriage, we dishonor and hate our fellow man. When a man engages in sexual relations with a woman who is not his wife, he dishonors the woman, he dishonors her future husband (if it is not to be him), he dishonors the child that will come into the world through her if she conceived. If she is a married woman, he greatly dishonors her husband, and her children, if she has any. And the very same thing may be said of the woman who willing participates as it pertains to the dishonoring of the man. Our culture calls sex outside of the bonds of marriage, “love”. In reality, it is dishonor and hate. And you would think that the world would wise up to this fact as they witness all of the death, destruction, and dysfunction that their promiscuity produces. Instead, they scoff at people like us, calling us old-fashioned, uptight, and prudish.  Deep down they know that they are miserable in their sin and that we are quite happy trusting in the Lord and walking in his ways. This is about love, brothers and sisters – true love, and true honor. When you violate the seventh commandment in thought, word, and deed, you do not love but hate. And the wages of sin is death. 


What Does The Seventh Commandment Require And Forbid?

What then does the seventh commandment forbid of us?

Answer 77 of our catechism says, “The seventh commandment [forbids] all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.”

And what does the seventh commandment require of us?

Answer 76 of our catechism says, “The seventh commandment [requires] the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.”

Again, our catechism helps us to get to the heart of the issue. Adultery, technically speaking, is when a husband or wife is unfaithful to their spouse physically. When two unmarried individuals engage in sex outside the bonds of marriage, they do not commit adultery but engage in sexual immorality, technically speaking. But the seventh commandment does not only require marital faithfulness and forbid marital unfaithfulness. By way of implication, or necessary consequence, it forbids any and all perversion of God’s design for sex in the context of marriage.  Again, the summary of God’s moral law is this: “you shall not commit adultery.” Adultery is the sin that is named because it draws our attention to the ideal or design, namely, sexual union in the context of covenantal union, while also forbidding all perversions of this ideal.   

The seventh commandment forbids unchastity and requires chastity. This means that we are to maintain sexual purity.  For those who are not married, this requires abstinence. For those married, this requires faithfulness to one’s spouse. 

You will notice that our catechism says that “the seventh commandment [requires] the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity…” How can we preserve our neighbor’s chastity? Answer: by not being a source of temptation to them by the way that we dress, the way that we speak, or the way that we interact with them. Have you thought about this, brothers and sisters? You have a moral obligation not only to maintain your own chastity but also your neighbors, so far as it depends upon you. 

And notice also the phrase,  “…in heart, speech, and behavior.” “The seventh commandment [requires] the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.” Adultery, properly speaking, is a behavior. It is an act wherein one spouse is unfaithful to the other physically. But in this sermon series on the Ten Commandments, we have learned how to properly interpret and apply God’s moral law. These moral laws are summaries. The implications of them are meant to be fleshed out. Also, these moral laws are meant to be applied to the heart. 

When Christ said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”, he did not say something new. No, when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’” he was referring to the superficial and false interpretation of the law which was predominate in his day.  And when he added, “but I say to you…”, he was not countering Moses or the original intent of the law. Rather, he was giving the right and true interpretation. The law of Moses was always to be applied within the heart, brothers and sisters. The summary of it was always “love”. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5, ESV), and “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, ESV).

Lust in the heart is not adultery. But lust in the heart is adultery in the heart and in seed form. That is the point. Lust in the heart leads to adultery if left unchecked. Also, we may say that the sin of adultery is present in the heart when lust is present there. Just as an oak tree is present in the ground where an acorn is present, soo too the sin of adultery is present where lust is present. There is a great deal of difference between an acorn and an oak. And there is a great deal of difference between the sin of lust and the sin of adultery. But both are sins. And the one will grow into the other if left unchecked. Brothers and sisters, the sin of adultery is to be rooted out of our lives in all of its forms, and we must begin with the heart. 

The words of James are appropriate here. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:13–15, ESV). This is true of all sin. It is certainly true of the sin of adultery. It begins in the heart and in the realm of desires.

The scriptures warn often against the sin of sexual immorality in general, and adultery in particular. In the book of Proverbs, we find very strong warnings against this sin. You may read Proverbs chapters 1-9 for yourself. Listen now to Proverbs 5:1-14, 20-23. 

“My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it. And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, ‘How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation…’ [verse 20] Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray” (Proverbs 5:20–23, ESV). Of course, the same warning must be delivered to our daughters too regarding the seductive man. 

You know, it is interesting how the book of Proverbs highlights sins of sexual immorality in general and adultery, in particular, to show foolish they are. In fact, though I do not have the time to go into great detail about this now, the first 9 chapters of Proverbs set forth the sins of sexual immorality and adultery as the epitome of foolish living. The seductive woman represents the way of folly, whereas wisdom is personified by the excellent and faithful wife. In brief, the reason is this. To live a life of wisdom means living according to God’s design for things and in obedience to his moral law. To live a life of foolishness involves being driven by your passions, your fleshly cravings, and your sinful desires.  There is no better illustration of this than the sin of adultery. For a moment of pleasure men and women plunge themselves into ruin. This is the epitome of the way of folly, which leads to death, apart from the grace of God in Christ Jesus. 


Suggestions For Application

I think I have said enough about the sin of adultery and about what the seventh commandment requires and forbids, generally speaking. Please allow me now to offer some suggestions for application. 

First of all, we must think correctly about gender and sex. 

This is especially difficult in our culture given the perversity that is all around us. It may not be so difficult for those who are older, but our young people have been raised in a culture that is exceedingly perverse as it pertains to sex and sexuality. Christian parents must have a clear understanding of what the scriptures say about sex and sexuality, and they must instruct their children. God’s Word is our authority for truth, brothers and sisters. Our belief is that God created the world in a particular way, that he made men and women to correspond to one another, that he instituted marriage, and that sex is to be enjoyed within that context. In other words, we have this fundamental belief that God designed the world to function in a particular way, that morality is fixed, that it is wise to live according to God’s design and his law, and it is sin and folly to rebel. This way of thinking is very much out of style today. We ourselves must be comfortable with being out of style, and we must raise our children in such a way that they are comfortable with being out of style in the eyes of the culture. The way to do this is to teach them God’s word and to show them that God’s law is good, beautiful, and lovely. We can do this by showing them how good it is to live according to God’s design, and how ultimately miserable it is to rebel. Teach them these things with your words. Teach them also by your way of life. Lead by good example, and where you have failed be appropriately honest with them concerning the folly of your ways. Tell them about the grace of God shown to us in Christ. Urge them to repent and believe upon him. Lovingly urge them to walk in God’s ways in Christ Jesus. Do this as it pertains to all of God’s moral laws, but especially as it pertains to matters of sex and sexuality. Urge them to marry, and to marry in the LORD.

Single people and married people must think correctly about sex. We must remember that sex is not only for pleasure. It is for procreation. The two things go together. I was careful with my wording. Again I said, sex is not only for pleasure. It is for pleasure, brothers and sisters. It is meant to be enjoyed, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, by a husband and his wife. It is a very important part of the marriage relationship. In fact, the scriptures warn husbands and wives not to neglect it. You may go to 1 Corinthians 7 to read about that. There Paul says, among other things, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5, ESV). In the sexual union between a husband and wife the spiritual, emotional, relational, and covenantal union is consummated or made complete. If I may speak in this way, the sexual union seals the marriage covenant. In the marriage covenant, the husband and wife become one flesh. They are no longer two individuals, but one in the marriage band. And the sexual union seals that covenant bond. By the way, this is one reason it is so inappropriate to engage in sex outside of marriage. To engage in sexual intercourse outside of the bonds of marriage is to apply the seal of the one-flesh union without the covenantal reality of it. It can be compared to applying baptism or giving the Lord’s Supper to those who do not believe in Christ. To do so would be to profane the sacraments. Why? Because these sacraments are signs of the New Covenant. It is those who are partakers of the Covenant of Grace through faith in Christ who are to receive the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper along with their spiritual benefits. They are not for the world. And the same can be said regarding the gift of sex. It seals the marriage covenant. It is to be enjoyed by those who have entered into the covenant of marriage. In fact, I would argue that it only can be truly enjoyed by those who are in the covenant of marriage. The substantial part of the marriage relationship is the covenant. The physical act of sex seals it. To partake of the seal without the substance is hollow, not to mention profane. That is why those who engage in sex outside of the marriage covenant feel hollow and relationally empty after the thrill of the fornication wears off. Sex is meant to be enjoyed, brothers and sisters. It is to be enjoyed by a man and woman bound together as one flesh in the covenant of marriage. It is be enjoyed physically, emotionally, and relationally.

In our culture, the problem is on the other side of the spectrum, though. Many act as if sex is only for pleasure. They forget that it is also for procreation. This is the way that new life is created – through sexual union. Think about that for a moment. Human beings have the ability to procreate. What an awesome power this is. What an awesome responsibility this is. Think of it. God is the Creator of all things seen and unseen. He is the source of all life. But he has given man, made in his image, the ability to create life. This is an awesome power, and with great power comes great responsibility.   

I’m afraid that men and women have forgotten about the power and responsibility of procreation. Many in our culture wish to use sex for pleasure while ignoring the power a great responsibility of procreation. When a man and women come together and create life, they are then responsible to nurture that life to bring it to maturity. Our children are to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are to learn to live for God’s glory and in obedience to his moral law. They must learn of their need for Christ because of their sin. The point is this, as we consider the seventh commandment, “you shall not commit adultery”, we must remember the great power and responsibility of procreation. Sex is to be enjoyed by a husband and wife in the covenant of marriage in part because sex is for procreation. And the children that are brought into this world through procreation are to be nurtured to maturity by a father and mother. As I have said, the seventh commandment is about honoring life in the beginning stages.     

We must think correctly about gender, sex, marriage, and procreation. This will become ever more difficult and important for the church as the culture around us continues to run full speed down the path of sin and folly. 

Secondly, those who have sinned as it pertains to the seventh commandment and those who have been sinned against in this regard, must not be given over to despair but must run to Christ and abide in him from this day forward. I’m especially thinking of those who have been sinned against as pertains to marital unfaithfulness who are now raising their children alone. Yes, ideally husbands and wives will remain together for life. Yes, ideally children will be raised by fathers and mothers committed to one another in the covenant of marriages. It is important that this idea be preached for the sake of current and future generations. But we know that things are not always ideal in this world. Sin is a rebellion against the ideal, and its consequences are devastating. But we must not forget that God is able to bring much good from evil, and much light from darkness. Those who are living now in the aftermath of sin – either their own or the sin of another – must not forget that. You must remember that God is able to work all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purposes. I’m speaking now both to single parents and to the children of single-parent homes. I think it is safe to say that life in this fallen world is never ideal. The idea of God’s design and of God’s law must be proclaimed! But the gospel must be proclaimed too. And what is the gospel except that God has provided a Savior so that our sins might be forgiven and our hearts renewed? One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that our heavenly Father works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purposes. I trust that the Lord is able to work powerfully in situations that are less than ideal. We must be strong in faith, brothers and sisters. We cannot allow ourselves to be given over to despair.   

Thirdly, I wish to exhort married people to be very careful to protect the sanctity of the marriage covenant. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 7 I say, be generous with each other. Be kind and compassionate to each other always. Be tenderhearted and forgiving. And be sure that you are faithful to one another, not only physically, but in the mind and heart too. There is so much at stake, brothers and sisters.

Fourthly, I wish to say that the church has the opportunity and the responsibility to be salt and light to the culture around us. We are to shine forth the light of the gospel, but we also have the privilege of showing how good life is when lived according to God’s design. The family is breaking down in our culture, friends. Let us show the world how good the family can be. The institution of marriage has been degraded. Let us show the world how wonderful a Christ-centered marriage can be?  We must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with our lips, but let us be sure to also show the world how good and pleasant it is to walk with God in obedience to his laws. May the Lord use us in this way to show the world the folly of their sinful ways. 

Fifth, I wish to speak specifically to the sin of abortion which plagues this land. While abortion is a direct violation of the sixth commandment, “you shall not murder”, it should not be difficult to see that viuolatioons of the seventh commandment are a leading cause. The vast majority of the children murdered in the womb through abortion are murdered because they are ”unwanted”. Here I am simply making the observation that if the seventh commandment were kept – if men and women were to engage in sex only within the covenant of marriage – then there would not be so many “unwanted” pregnancies. I agree that men and women ought to have the choice to bring a child into this world, but the choice must be made before conception and not afterward. Y

es, abortion ought to be outlawed in this land. It is a great evil and ought to be a crime. But the problem is bigger than this. The problem is sin. Only Christ can solve that problem, friends. Men and women need Christ. They need to hear the gospel. They need to be exhorted to turn from their sin and to Christ for forgiveness. They need to be taught to observe that he has commanded from there. Lord, have mercy on us.  

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